PINE TOWNSHIP | Situated at the doorstep to Mount Baldy, natural beauty abounds in rural Pine Township.
Szymon Kozaczka, who along with his wife Paulina operates the Al and Sally's Motel, one of three 1950s-era motor inns in the tiny town of Pines, said during the summer months it's not unusual to see every room in town booked with tourists looking to enjoy the outdoors.
"A lot of our customers come to do shopping at Lighthouse Place mall and a lot come for gaming at the casino in Michigan City. Most come and go to the dunes," he said.
Situated right behind the hotel, running parallel with U.S. 20, the Calumet Trail is a popular destination for walkers, joggers and bicyclists.
The 9.1-mile crushed limestone trail, managed by the Porter County Parks and Recreation Department, lies just south of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, off the LaPorte County line and continues through Indiana Dunes State Park into Westchester Township.
During the snowy winter months, the trail is also a popular destination for cross-country skiers.
Another site managed by the county is the 25-acre Brincka-Cross Gardens.
The gardens in the 400 block of Furness Road, off U.S. 20 and County Road 365, opened to the public in April 2010 and feature hundreds of different kinds of hostas, natural grasses and wild flowers, including 10,000 spring daffodils on 5 landscaped acres.
Matt Pera, communications director for the parks department, said a variety of programs ranging from painting and sketching to yoga and meditation are set to kick off at the park beginning in April.
"We are doing a lot of art and gardening classes out there," he said.
The gardens were formerly the private home of a former professor at the Art Institute of Chicago and a former antiques buyer for Chicago's Marshall Field and Co.
In mid-March, great blue herons take up residence at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's Heron Rookery.
The majestic and unique birds return each year to repair their more than 100 nests and feed all summer in the area's shallow waters at the rookery off County Road 600 East, just south of County Road 1400 North.
According to the National Park Service, the area also features a walking trail with views of wild spring flowers from late March through early June and a fishing area along the Little Calumet River.